Coralville prepares for RAGBRAI bikers

BY BRIAN ALBERT | JULY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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The 30-person Coralville RAGBRAI planning committee has been busy since February preparing for an influx of 15,000 bike riders headed for the city.

And when they roll into Morrison Park on July 29 for food, drinks, and entertainment, the scene will resemble Kinnick Stadium on a black and gold game day, said Laurie Haman, the publicity chairwoman of Coralville RAGBRAI.

"We're excited that Friday has been designated "college-spirit day" for the bikers," Haman said. "About 40 to 50 yards of the street will be painted green and stenciled like a football field. We'll have people from the community cheering with pompoms. It should capture the fun feel of local tailgating culture."

City officials have been working out the logistics of hosting the event for months, forming groups dedicated to food vending, entertainment, law enforcement, traffic, parking, hygiene, volunteer recruitment, and sanitation efforts. They said past events have proven these various groups will reduce stress for bikers, volunteers, and Coralville residents.

"We've hosted the RAGBRAI event in Morrison Park four times, and each year we improve a little bit," said Ellen Habel, the Coralville assistant city administrator. "Our goal is to make it easier for bikers to find each other and get to where they need to go."

To facilitate this goal, Coralville transit fees will be eliminated for the day, and a free shuttle will run nonstop between Coral Ridge Mall and Morrison Park. The campground also has WiFi coverage, allowing attendees to stay connected through message boards and social networks.

Past events have also shown the bikers aren't riding alone. City officials are expecting nearly 1,000 support vehicles — RVs and trucks that transport food, water, and equipment for the riders.

Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford, the head of the RAGBRAI law-enforcement committee, said his officers will be busy routing the increased traffic and coordinating vehicle routes.

"Parking will be at a premium in the campground, so we'll be out there directing these support vehicles to designated parking spots," he said. "We're fortunate that Northwest Junior High and Kirkwood Elementary have allowed us to use their lots, but you'll still see several city blocks packed with vehicles."

Bedford's department will also coordinate street closures and security for the many entertainment venues, including a concert by 38 Special.

For those in search of chow, Coralville has commissioned more than 30 food vendors for the event. Most of them are local, serving a variety of foods including pizza, ice cream, burritos, burgers, ribs, and egg rolls.

There will also be a beverage garden serving alcohol. Habel said volunteers will check IDs before they get to the counter, lessening the chance that servers could make a mistake.

"With so much food and drinks and so many people, trash is going to be an issue," said Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth. "We've got a sanitation squad lined up that will make rounds and empty the trash receptacles. Cleanliness is going to be a big priority."

More than 450 individuals have volunteered to coordinate the event's 700 jobs, an outcome that left city officials "pleasantly surprised."

"It should be exciting," Haman said. "We'll have hundreds of locals and generous volunteers meeting people from around the world who choose to participate in RAGBRAI. Hopefully, the weather isn't dreadful."

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